View Full Version : Do mandolas fit well into celtic music

Feb-12-2004, 1:17am
I 've been talking to David Kilpatrick about this. I was wondering what everyone else thought. The reason I am asking is that I like the deeper bass sounds and drones that I cant seem to get out of my current mando, although it is a great player for melody for me. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Feb-12-2004, 1:49am
Bob -

If you really want to play Celtic melody, I think it's hard to beat a mandola tuned DAEB (i.e., one whole step above standard mandola tuning of CGDA), and this tuning should suit the relatively short scale of David's mandolas very well (perhaps better than standard tuning). #With this tuning, your bottom three courses (DAE) are the same as the top 3 courses on a mandolin, except an octave lower (so they're really like the top three courses on an octave mandolin). #

It's my experience that no more (and perhaps even less) than 10% of Celtic tunes EVER require the low G string on a mandolin - and even for those that do you can find ways to work around it. #On the other hand, the high B seems to find its way into quite a few tunes, so having the B as your top string saves you from a tricky pinky stretch.

I have my own mandola tuned this way and find it works just great for Celtic. #You can also tune the lowest 2 (perhaps 3) courses in octaves, which produces a beautiful tone that will be much different from your mandolin. #I do this as well.

J. Mark Lane
Feb-12-2004, 10:10am
You can also tune the lowest 2 (perhaps 3) courses in octaves, which produces a beautiful tone that will be much different from your mandolin. #I do this as well.
I assume you change the strings to do this? Did you have the nut and saddle set up for the octaves tuning and then just use other strings for regular tuning? More specifically, what mandola are you using (what scale length) and what strings do you use for this tuning?

Thanks. Interesting topic, btw. I suppose the original question could be answered two ways: (1) do Celtic (Irish?) players tend to accept the mandola into sessions etc?, (2) musically, can it work. I would think the answer to the second question is a strong yes, but I have no idea about the former....


Feb-12-2004, 1:15pm
Mark -

My mandola is a 1924 H-1, and I think the scale is 15.875" (Gibson experts may correct me on this one). Yes, you do have to use different (lighter gauge) strings for the DAEB tuning than you would for CGDA, and of course you have to use different strings for the higher octave strings in the octave courses (1/2 the gauge of the lower string yields roughly the same string tension). I made no bridge or nut modifications for the octave strings, but they work fine -- no intonation problems at all (bearing in mind that 99% of Celtic tunes are played in the 1st position, so with this tuning you almost never hit a string above the 6th fret).

In my experience, session folks have no problems with mandolas -- they're pretty much the same as mandolins. The only negative is that if you're playing melody and don't know the tunes, you'll stick out in a small session -- but that applies to any melody instrument.

Feb-12-2004, 1:34pm
As far as strings go, you won't find a set to match this tuning. #I buy individual D'Addario strings in sets of 5 (for wounds) or 10 (for plain steel) from First Quality Music Supply (http://www.fqms.com/Static/catalog/catalog_strings.pdf) in the following gauges:

D: .042w / .022w
A: .028w / .014
E: .020w / .020w (could also string this in octave with a .010)
B: .012 / .012

Steve L
Feb-12-2004, 3:27pm
Bob, get some recordings of the Irish band "Dervish" and you will hear interplay of bouzouki and mandola to die for. A wonderful band all around.

Feb-12-2004, 5:33pm
I had a Kentucky Dawg mandola tuned with octaves on the lower two courses for a short while and liked it. They were properly sized strings. I took it in for a little maintanance once and the guy looked at me like I'd committed absolute blasphemy and gave me some verbal abuse. When I got it back he'd restrung it back to normal. Rather amusing actually.

Feb-12-2004, 6:35pm
Don't know if this was mentioned before but the Batlefield Band used mandola to great effect in their music. I can't remember the player's name but he used the mandola very efffectively especcially on those Scottish murder ballads.

J. Mark Lane
Feb-12-2004, 8:26pm
Well, if we're talking about people who use the mandola effectively in Celtic music, seems to me there's quite a few. Simon Mayor comes to mind... although perhaps not "strictly Celtic".... Also Dan Beimborn...


Feb-12-2004, 9:09pm

Just got Dervish "Spirit" and am digging it alot!

The idea for this topic is basically I am looking for a way to justifying buying another instrument.LOL! #At Troubadors prices, this seems the way to go for right now until I really improve, which could be years, but that's OK. #I just want something that makes more bass and that I can play chords and melody on. #I love my mando but the G string is sorrily lacking in nice full tone.

How in the world would I make chords with #DAEB tuning? #I am just now getting confidient at moving around with standard mando chords, but I cant seem to move them around that fast. #For some reason or other my brain and fingures have been able to pick up melody easier than chordr playing. #My instructor says this is sort of backwards from most folks.

Feb-12-2004, 9:39pm
Pickin Bob, anyone of a number of sites can show ya the chord formations for any tuning...sad to say i can't remember the names of them at this time... try a search for Chord Finder, that might work.

Feb-13-2004, 12:03am
Bob -

For closed chords (e.g., bluegrass chop chords), the chord "forms" will be the same with DAEB is with GDAE (as they will with any tuning in fifths), but he locations will be different. However, you'll find those closed chords very difficult to play on the longer scale of a mandola, and frankly, people at an Irish session will usually look askance at you if you strart laying down bluegrass chop chords behind Celtic tunes.

With respect to chords with open string, you just need to transpose down a forth -- so your current open G chord (0-0-2-3) becomes a D chord in DAEB tuning, your open D chord (2-0-0-2) becomes an A chord, and so forth.

Feb-13-2004, 6:07am
Mine was a 10-string tuned GDAEA. Funny enough, I played it a lot less like an octave mandolin (GDAE on the bottom) and much more like a DAEA mandola. The G & D strings were typically drones. The AEA on the top were where I would put the melodies in. Very flexible tuning. DAEA is a pretty cool tuning on a mandola, there's a lot you can do with it.

Brian McDonagh of Dervish uses DAEA + 1/2 step to get an Eb tuning to play with the Eb box & flute.. Adjust the string gauges though, don't just crank them up like Brian used to, he killed a nice old Gibson mandola that way!

CGDA tuning is quite nice too. It's a bit of a mind-bender if you are used to GDAE and trying to transpose in your head though, for me it causes too much thinking to set in !

Feb-13-2004, 6:17am
I've been asked to reply by a café resident, so I've joined the table. I'll try to keep out with instrument sales! I import and sell the Romanian mandola with 15.8 inch scale (402mm) and although they go out with a chunky 13-44 wound 2nd string set for CGDA, my own mandola is strung with regular 11-39 mandolin strings and tuned to DAEB. I play in sessions in our pub here in Kelso, Scotland, and the majority of Scottish tunes (or Irish tunes popular in Scotland) are in D, A, or G; Bm, Am, Em; due to use of drop-tonic construction, many tunes in D require a Cmaj chord, and many in G require an Fmaj. But the most part are in D with a D/Bm/G/A cycle. For this the DAEB tuning is far superior to mandolin GDAE, since it places the 'easy' 1st position chord set in D instead of in G. Very few Celtic tunes and almost no Celtic instruments are in C! Our wooden (1828) flute player is most comfortable in D and G; our most frequent Border piper has stuff mainly in A; our fiddle players and whistle players are mainly in D, and the standard whistle is either D or Low D. We have a chamber pipe player who's in Bb but since that messes EVERYONE up we have persuaded him to get a set of midi pipes, and he can now transpose to A (but needs serious squassation before he will agree to do this).

The string set suggested 12-42 for DAEB would be rather high tension for our instruments, which are very 'active' and have a simple flat-top construction - putting excess tension on them just dampens them. The standard mandolin set is a little slack but permits tuning to EAEB if desired, and ther tension is easy under the fingers.

I've custom strung these instruments at all pitches from zouk (low GDAE with octaved basses!) up to full normal mandolin pitch (8-30 special string set, which I get made by Newtone). Amazingly, since they have a zouk sized body they sound OK, but I did find the 'travel zouk' variant rather plonky. The buyer was happy and liked the chunky sound. The true mandolin tuning is quite beautiful, very delicate, but the instrument really needs a zero fret lowering job, fret dressing and a little attention to the bridge before such light strings are acceptable under heavy fretting pressure.

The best sound from the mandola is still the CGDA set, because the heavier weight, especially the wound 2nd, gives an added warmth. But it isn't much in celtic sessions as I found quickly. That led me to the DAEB tuning.

Reference bluegrass closed 'chop chords', the mandola scale is just too much for most people to handle for these at lower positions. The DAEB tuning allows you to capo at 5, creating a very short-scale mandolin, ideal for folk who can't manage those peculiar stretchy chop G shapes even on a normal 350mm scale mando.

Hope this helps. The short scale (tenor) mandola is a great instrument. Sadly, mp3.com has disappeared because Terry Blankenship (Ohio) had some wonderful celtic mandola playing on his pages, which I would have pointed you to. We got permission from him to use his 'Rattlin Roarin Willie' on a CD published here in the Scottish Borders to represent what's being done with Border tunes, since he was much better than anyone locally.


Steve L
Feb-13-2004, 6:45am
David, welcome to the cafe! We've been hearing very nice things about you from owners of your instruments and it was a pleasure to hear from you. Please post often and our host, Scott, provides a "dealer" section in the classifieds where you can keep us posted on what you offer for sale. Don't be a stranger.

All the best,

J. Mark Lane
Feb-13-2004, 8:34am
Hello David, glad to see you here. #

I have one of David's mandolas. #I like it a lot. #I have mine tuned CGDA (I forget the gauges without looking, but I believe it's a set of OM strings from GHS). #The sound of these instruments is pretty remarkable. #They have a lot of volume, and a really nice "ringing" tone. #David is correct about them being a bit much for bluegrass chords. #Hard to finger, and also just don't sound right. #But open chords sound wonderful.

For the money, these instruments are an amazing bargain. #I recently got one of the OM's as well (David calls it a zouk, and with the long scale lenght that's probably a better name for it). #I'll comment on it in a separate post in a few days. #It's a really cool instrument. #


Feb-13-2004, 12:12pm
Hi David -

Good to see you in this thread -- I'm a big booster of Troubador (I'm the culprit who led PickinBob your way in another thread) as probably the best and most economical starter instruments in the market.

I too like the sound of the wound 2nd E string in DAEB tuning. I know D'Addario makes a .018w -- would that tension (around 20 lbs.) be higher than you'd recommend on your mandola?

Feb-13-2004, 4:48pm
This is a bit off topic, since as much as I want to get into playing zook, that's a bit of a ways off for me. I'm looking to upgrade my regular mando, and was wondering if you guys think one of the Troubador's is a good choice as a next step from my crappy Johnson. All solid wood construction for the prices he offers looks like an excellent deal, but what kind of sound do the Troubador mandos have, anyone know? I'm assuming they'd work fine for Celtic music, but if I'm mistaken please let me know.

Feb-14-2004, 1:02am
David. thanks for jumping into this.

Thanks everyone, this gives me a good place to think of how I want to do my next step. #Probably the Troubador mandola with teh DAEB tunig. #It's bonus time for me at work.

Thanks for the tip on the chord shapes too. #I have been struggling with teaching my fingures to move faster with these shapes and have been having a hard time. #Feeling very frustrated.

I also must say that this group of folks here has got to be the nicest and friendliest group I know. I dont know if it's the muisic or what but I really appreciate how kind and helpful all of you have been to this new guy. I also enjoy the sense of relationship and community that seems here in this community of musicians and hopefuls like me. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/coffee.gif #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif